February 8th, 2018

“Super Wood”, the Future of Bikes?

US researchers developed super-strong and tough densified wood that could be an alternative for road race bicycle manufacture in the future.

The team, led by Dr. Liangbing Hu, at the University of Maryland were successful in transforming natural wood into a high-performance structural material following a series of treatment. The “super wood” is expected to be substituted into any application where steel is currently used, such as cars, aeroplanes, buildings and, presumably, bicycle manufacture.

The new wood is comparable to carbon fibre but much less expensive and lighter. Wood had already been used for bicycle manufacture for some years as it absorbs vibrations well, making cycling on bumpy roads smoother and less tiring, and there are more than one hundred companies that make bikes from wood or bamboo. The “super wood”, which is claimed to be tenfold stronger than regular wood, could be used in race bikes.

University of Maryland researchers are proposing that bulk natural wood is transformed using a two-step process that involves the partial removal of lignin and hemicellulose through boiling in an aqueous mixture of sodium hydroxide and sodium sulphite. The material is then mechanically hot-pressed at 100°C, leading to the total collapse of cell walls and the complete densification of the natural wood with highly aligned cellulose nanofibers. The treatment results in a material that has a specific tensile strength that is higher than that of high-specific-strength steel, and even of lightweight titanium alloy.